Harrisburg is no stranger to classical music, boasting a symphony orchestra as well as many choral groups and bands.
But according to Alex Ashman, director of music at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral, a segment is missing—the organ scene.
This month, as part of their “Music by the River” series, the cathedral is bringing in world-renowned organist Peter Krasinski to provide accompaniment to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a silent film from 1923.
“Something like this hasn’t happened in Harrisburg before,” Ashman said. “Harrisburg is an awesome place for a revival of organ music in the city.”
Krasinski is a conductor, organist and music educator who specializes in silent film accompaniment. His ability to craft extensive compositions to enhance the experience of watching a film has won him many awards, including recognition from the American Guild of Organists National Competition. In addition to teaching at St. Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge, Mass., and in the Harvard Organ Society, Krasinski often tours for concerts.
“It’s always been a passion,” he said. “Every single performance is unique, and it is, indeed, always improvised.”
He explained the process he goes through of researching the venue and city where he will perform, as well as the organ on which he will be playing. All of these factors, including the audience, influence his performance.
“I’m looking forward to visiting Harrisburg,” he said.
The silent film accompaniment event, Ashman pointed out, takes an audience that has just stepped into the 2020s back to the 1920s, presenting a timely reflection into history.
“The whole idea is to really immerse yourself in a culture of cinema that has slipped through the cracks,” he said.
According to the American Theatre Organ Society, in the early 20th century, when filmmaking was just introduced, theaters were grand and ornate, a far cry from our simple modern venues. Often known as the “cathedrals of motion pictures,” most theaters housed a large organ to supplement black-and-white films. However, as technology advanced, theater organs went into decline.
As organs have vanished, so too have those who can play the elaborate instrument. Ashman explained that, at the turn of the last century, organists were far easier to find, but with these musicians getting older and few young people taking their place, a shortage has resulted.
Krasinski is one of a niche group who still plays.
“Today, hardly anyone can do this,” Ashman said. “It’s strikingly interesting to have something like this.”
Most people today have rather isolated experiences with music and movies by putting on headphones or turning on a television. Krasinski sees value in communal live performances.
“People need the opportunity to be with other people and share an event,” he said. “Silent movies tend to do that in a real, personal way.”
St. Stephen’s will hold this musical celebration in collaboration with Midtown Cinema, which is providing a screen and a projector, along with refreshments, for the evening.
“It’s really special to have this collaboration between the cathedral and the cinema,” Ashman said.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” silent film event is open to all, but is ticketed.
“I hope people realize it’s a unique opportunity,” Krasinski said. “It’s much more deep than just a concert.”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” silent film event with organist Peter Krasinski takes place on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral, 221 N. Front St., Harrisburg. To learn more and to purchase tickets, visit www.musicbytheriver.org. For more information about Peter Krasinski, visit www.krasinski.org.